Inquiry design meeting #13: February 7-8, 2016, Winnipeg, Manitoba
The thirteenth meeting to inform the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba on February 7-8, 2016. The pre-inquiry meeting included families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, survivors, and representatives who have been involved in supporting family members. Their experiences, views and contributions will be used to help design the inquiry.
A summary of the meeting is provided below. This summary is not a complete account of the discussions; it highlights the key themes that emerged from this engagement meeting. Read a copy of the discussion guide used at this meeting.
The engagement meeting was held over two days, with the first day being a preparation day. Elders arrived and prepared the space on February 7, which included a registration and orientation session where families, loved ones and survivors shared the stories of their families and/or their personal stories of experiencing violence. The far-ranging impacts of violence and abuse were discussed, as well as what families and survivors need to support their long-term healing journey.
The second day was dedicated to inviting participants to share how they think the inquiry should be designed, with participants sharing their insights in a circle for the first part of the day and breaking into small groups for the second part of the day. The day opened and closed with traditional ceremonies, including drumming, prayers and singing. Those in attendance acknowledged and honoured the women and girls who were murdered and who are still missing.
The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard about the needs and experiences of families and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, survivors, and others. Participants focused on sharing their perspectives on how best to design the inquiry so that it responds to their needs and experiences.
Participants in the Winnipeg session stressed the importance of making sure that a families and survivors first approach informs the inquiry, which includes considering the safety and healing needs of families and survivors before, during and after the inquiry takes place. The discussion focused on participants' experiences with various institutions and how they would like to see the inquiry lead to improvements in these areas.
Over 180 family members and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, survivors of violence, and representatives who support families in Manitoba attended the meeting. Participants came from several Indigenous communities, mostly from the province of Manitoba but also from Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
Also in attendance was:
- the Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
- the Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment Workforce Development and Labour
Officials from Indigenous and Northern Affairs and Status of Women were also present throughout the day. To ensure the well-being of participants, health support workers (including Indigenous elders) from Health Canada were available at the meetings and over-night to provide additional cultural and emotional support.
Leadership and participation
Participants were asked to consider who should lead and who should take part in the inquiry. Views on leadership included the need to have:
- gender balance among the commissioner(s), representing women, men and two-spirited individuals
- commissioner(s) with experience supporting and working directly with families
- commissioner(s) with a legal background
Some participants also suggested that an advisory council of family members, representing each province and territory, be put in place to inform the inquiry and support it to focus on family needs throughout the process.
Others suggested it will be important to ensure the Commissioner(s) have access to support, given the difficult nature of the work they will be doing.
Participants also identified which groups should be invited to take part in the inquiry. They recommended that it include:
- family members and other loved ones
- survivors of violence, including those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence and those who have been exploited through sex trade work
- youth, including those who are currently at-risk and those who lost have lost family members
- grassroots organizations
- Elders and grandparents
- healers, counsellors and traditional faith keepers
- chiefs and councils
- police, including city police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
Priorities and key issues
Participants identified a broad range of issues the inquiry could address. These issues include:
- the causes of violence, including the inter-generational impacts of residential schools on family and community relationships
- socioeconomic gaps, including poverty, lack of access to education, and homelessness
- the impacts of violence, including related to mental health and addictions
- systemic racism, discrimination and the devaluing of women
- the differential treatment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples
- sexual exploitation, trafficking and prostitution
- ways to support two-spirited and trans-gendered individuals who have survived violence
- examining why Indigenous women and girls leave reserves and what they need when they move to urban centres
- police practices, from when and how missing persons incidents are responded to, to communication protocols, to the thoroughness of investigations, to follow up, including when remains have been identified
- police accountability and oversight mechanisms
- the criminalization of Indigenous women; the high rates of Indigenous women and girls being imprisoned
- the type and severity of punishment for perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls
- the reluctance to share information in some communities, due to fear of reprisal
- examining shelter services, including who is eligible to access women's shelter services
- the intersection between child welfare (child and family services) and Indigenous girls being at-risk of violence
- ways to support children who have been left behind
- how to encourage healing so that families can work together with police and child welfare/child and family services moving forward
- concrete ways to support families of missing persons, including to file missing persons reports and to conduct searches
- ways to support family and community healing, from when they are in crisis to long-term after-care
- how to educate youth about healthy relationships to prevent violence
- examining the role of the media in perpetuating stereotypes
- how to educate Canadians to combat stereotypes and discrimination
Participants suggested that change is needed in multiple areas and that the inquiry should lead to recommendations to inform:
- various levels of government
- law enforcement and justice system officials
- parenting within families
- all Canadian citizens
Participants emphasized the importance of taking action to address the issue and for the inquiry leading to specific recommendations for actions and improvements. They suggested the recommendations should:
- shift the response to this issue from being reactive to being proactive and aiming to prevent violence
- include clear timelines for action
- be followed up on at regular intervals to evaluate progress
Support and cultural practices
Participants noted that it will be important to honour and respect local traditional practices, protocols and ceremonies in the inquiry process.
They explained that families need support throughout the process and that it will be important to include:
- commissioner(s) and support people who families trust
Participants stressed that a families first model will be important in the inquiry. They indicated that to support families the inquiry should:
- travel to northern, rural and remote locations in order to reach families who do not often have an opportunity to speak
- consider the practical needs of families, including support with travel, food and childcare during meetings
- ensure confidentiality
- support safety, as some fear reprisals for telling their stories
- take efforts to prevent re-traumatization as family members tell their stories
- create multiple ways to provide submissions (for example, video recordings, letters, smaller, more private meetings)
Participants also discussed a range of other issues that could inform the inquiry or actions taken while the inquiry is taking place to address and prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls.
These include the need to:
- build on existing reports and recommendations; that is, not waiting to take action until after the inquiry is completed
- increase awareness about the stories of missing and murdered two-spirited / trans-gendered individuals
- seek input and perspectives of survivors of violence and abuse
- consider how some of the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls also affect Indigenous men, including the long-term impacts of colonialism and residential schools
- understand and address the diversity of Indigenous women's experiences (for example, differences on- and off-reserve, in the north and in the south)
- explore ways to involve the educational system in order to engage youth in the process and ensure they inform the recommendations
- ensure families have a safe place to get support from Elders and to come together
- reflect on symbolic ways to support healing in relationships (for example, through a national day, apology and/or memorial)
- find ways to incorporate art and culture in the healing process